The Way We Eat Now | Bee Wilson

Summary of: The Way We Eat Now
By: Bee Wilson


In ‘The Way We Eat Now,’ author Bee Wilson delves into the complex landscape of modern food consumption, its connection to our health, and the role of big corporations in shaping our eating habits. Wilson takes the reader through the four stages of food history and highlights the major implications of our current abundance of food. With increasing levels of obesity and diet-related diseases, Wilson raises crucial questions about the true meaning of a healthy diet and showcases the global impact of food trends and the deceptive practices of the food industry.

The Evolution of Our Unhealthy Diets

In today’s world, obesity and unhealthy diets are on the rise as people consume more sugary drinks and processed foods. Despite an increase in fruit consumption, our diets have become far from healthy. The food industry has drastically changed throughout history, from our hunter-gatherer days to the stage of plenty after World War Two where agriculture turned into the heavily subsidized and processed industry it is today. This has been fueled by international megacorporations that produce processed foods full of additives while farmers receive only a small fraction of the profit. As a result, we have seen a rise in obesity- and diet-related diseases.

The Impact of Dietary Shifts

This book summary highlights the repercussions of sudden dietary changes on our well-being, drawing insights from India’s type 2 diabetes epidemic in the 1990s. Dr. Chittaranjan Yajnik’s research identified the term “thin-fat babies” to describe Indian infants who were born thin but had more abdominal fat, predisposing them to diabetes due to a decrease in food scarcity. This evolutionary mismatch further unravels in the case of American beverages, which have become meal substitutes with over 200% more calories than what was consumed in 1965, contributing to weight gain and sugar intake. Reduced compensation of solid food intake with increased liquid calorie consumption underlines the need to monitor our food traditions and make gradual dietary transformations.

The Harmful Effects of Processed Foods

As the food industry has grown over the years, the consumption of processed foods has increased exponentially. These foods are inexpensive and mass-produced, but the calorie-rich vegetable oils they contain have proven to be detrimental to our health. The rise of processed foods has also made fresh vegetables more expensive, leading to a decrease in their consumption. Additionally, as more people earn higher incomes, more processed meats are consumed. Unfortunately, healthy food options remain unaffordable for many, and until that changes, the consumption of processed foods will remain high.

The Social Aspect of Eating

The decline of communal eating has paved the way for unhealthy eating habits, as illustrated by the rise of snack-based diets and the global snack industry. Meals have become increasingly solitary, and the social aspect of eating as a communal activity that strengthens bonds and synchronizes communities has largely been lost. This shift has caused a rise in ultra-processed snacks as a supplement for meals, particularly among low-income families. In contrast, the importance of nutritious meals in promoting good health is becoming increasingly evident.

Fad Foods and Their Global Impact

Explore the repercussions of food fads beyond the shallow surface level; from changing global demand for usually rare ingredients to the faking of trendy products, the effects of food fads are vast and complex.

Food trends can be more than just passing fads, as their global impact can have significant implications. The popularity of quinoa is one such trend, transforming the demand for this high-protein grain globally. With Western consumers increasingly gravitating towards the health benefits of quinoa, production in Peru grew from 22,500 to 114,300 metric tons per year from 1961 to 2014. Nevertheless, with the boom in demand came a decline in affordability, pricing local Bolivian farmers and families out of the market for their staple food.

Pomegranate juice was another health-based trend whose recent popularity led to a boom in its market. As manufacturers cranked up their production to satisfy the surge in demand, they made an ill-fated decision to market their products dishonestly. Before long, three-quarters of the beverages sold were pretending to be 100% pomegranate, a feat that current production could not have substantiated. Producers used apple or grape juice as a substitute and covered their tracks by repackaging and reshipping their fake products from various parts of the world.

An expert in food fraud is now looking into the next big trend: coconuts. With shelves loaded with coconut products like coconut yogurt and coconut water, the expert is doubtful about the possibility of meeting the spike in demand. Coconut trees take a decade to produce new coconuts, but will they be enough to meet this global explosion of interest in all things coconut?

In conclusion, not all food trends remain at the surface level, as their impact on the ecologies and economies of regions can be far-reaching. While the popularity of some of these foods is a welcome boost, it can also lead to the stripping of traditional staples from the diets of the locals. A closer look at these fads reveals that they are more complex than they appear.

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